I have no idea what to do with this blog now that I’m no longer a Member of Parliament, but there is a residue that follows an election loss, and since I spent so much time posting my sentiments throughout the campaign it would only be fitting to wrap it all up with some kind of reflection. I’m likely too close to it emotionally right now, but it’s important to communicate what I’m struggling through.
It was expected by most that I would win and the media sent its staff to my campaign office to cover the victory party that wasn’t. It became clear as the evening progressed that the vote split between myself and the NDP was proving fatal. Yet I’d had something of a premonition of the outcome during the last few days of the contest. At doors I canvassed I kept hearing certain stories about how I spent too much time in Africa, or that my voting presence in the House wasn’t too impressive. When I informed them that I only spent one week a year on that continent (Sudan), and that I take it on my holiday time over New Years and on my own dime, I could sense the hesitation in their voice. “Oh … that’s not what we heard when the Conservatives phoned us last night.” Something that hadn’t been an issue heretofore was suddenly looming large in the final days. It was frustrating, but I didn’t know who to talk to. It was only when the election was over that a good Conservative friend informed me that they had actually been utilizing a central office for phone calls and that none of them emanated from London itself. They had poured big money from afar into influencing my riding. What I had thought to be a local campaign had suddenly taken on national dimensions.
I should have figured it out earlier. While the opponents from the other parties were front and centre in the campaign, the Conservative candidate had been AWOL, appearing at only one televised debate in the entire five weeks. Instead, the Conservatives opted for phone calls and signs – no replacement for flesh and blood candidates, but they were looking to win from a distance.
It’s hard to describe this. Across the country, news trickled in that Conservative candidates refused to be present at debates; what was supposed to be an exercise in local democracy had become a faceless excuse for a campaign. It’s never easy being so accessible, but all the other candidates believed it to be their democratic duty. Not the Conservatives, however.
And so between all the phone calls, the last-minute Conservative signage inevitably put up in front of my signs, and the vote split with the NDP, I narrowly lost. Not desirous to wait for my defeat to be finally called, I opted to speak prior to that to concede. People were devastated, but my wife and I realized we had to be there for them in what was obviously a difficult time – we were sanguine while they were crushed. I had been portrayed as the accessible candidate, one who worked well with other parties and who was a community activist. Many saw me as the anti-politician, someone who put community before partisanship. But when these supporters saw that a faceless Conservative candidate had triumphed while having refused to face the public in campaign venues, it was difficult to comprehend. Their massive phone blitz had the effect the government was looking for, and the NDP-Liberal split did the rest.
It was the next day that my wife and I fell into a deep sadness. Politics and I never fit together very well, but suddenly some 460 emails, tweets and messages started to arrive from people who had admired that I hadn’t fit into the Ottawa scene very well and wanted to see politics itself change. Somehow, all those people who had wanted fundamental change got it, although not in the fashion they were seeking – instead of getting rid of a dispiriting Conservative minority, they received a majority instead. The messages coming in were brutal in their despondency – people who stated they were giving up on the system. “If politics doesn’t have room for someone like Glen Pearson,” one Facebook friend stated, “then there’s no room for the rest of us.” It was sad and there were tears.
I actually don’t know quite what to tell these folks, for I too am disillusioned. And yet I am free at last – back to the food bank, my Africa works, wife, children and friends. These poor folks, however, are caught in an downdraft of despair over the Canada they thought they knew. They are checking out and in that very act are confirming what the Harperites had always cherished: a voter suppression that would sustain them in power. And I am dealing with the reality that within that kind of political system there is no room for … me. That is a sad reality in a sad time.